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TSA Stops More Firearms and Other Prohibited Items at U.S. Airports

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials are concerned about the frequency that they are seeing travelers carry handguns to security checkpoints at airports across the United States. Most of those guns are found to be loaded.

The TSA teams at Arkansas airports detected a combined 61 guns at the security checkpoints in 2021 and as of March 23 they have caught eleven more guns this year. TSA officers at Northwest Arkansas National Airport have stopped four guns, officers at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport have found six guns and officers at Texarkana Regional Airport have caught one gun so far in 2022.  

“The most common excuse we hear is that someone forgot that they had their gun with them,” said Tim Berroyer, TSA’s Federal Security Director for airports in the state. “That’s no excuse. If you own a firearm, you need to know where it is at all times. It’s part of being a responsible gun owner.”

TSA officers at Boston Logan International Airport caught their fourth gun this year when they stopped a man from carrying a firearm onto an airplane on Tuesday, March 22. During security screening around 10 a.m., a TSA officer detected a .22 caliber Mini-Revolver in the man’s carry-on bag. TSA officers immediately alerted the Massachusetts State Police who responded and confiscated the firearm from the Washington state resident. He was eventually cleared for entry into the secure area.

“Even if you have a valid permit to carry, there are proper procedures you still have follow in order to travel with a firearm,” said Bob Allison, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Massachusetts. “Carelessly traveling with a firearm is a public safety concern, so I strongly urge all gun owners to ensure they know where their firearm is before traveling to the airport.”

The following week, During security screening around 5 a.m. on March 31, in the airport’s Terminal A, TSA officers detected their fifth firearm with two magazines in a man’s carry-on duffel bag. The officers immediately alerted the Massachusetts State Police who responded and discovered the firearm was loaded and had a chambered round.                                            

TSA detected 18 firearms at Boston Logan’s security checkpoints in 2021.

Meanwhile, a TSA officer at Pittsburgh International Airport prevented an Allegheny County man from bringing his loaded handgun onto his flight on Wednesday, March 23. The man, a resident of Munhall, Pa., was in possession of a .357 caliber handgun loaded with five bullets. When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Allegheny County Police were alerted, confiscated the revolver and cited the man on a weapons charge. TSA forwarded the incident to be followed up with the issuance of a federal financial civil penalty.

The U.S. States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania announced late last year that in firearm incidents at the checkpoint that involve an individual who possesses a valid concealed carry permit, that they will request County Sheriffs to rescind that resident’s firearms concealed carry license due to negligence.

The very next day, the airport’s TSA team prevented a Michigan man from bringing his loaded handgun onto his flight. The man was in possession of a .380 caliber handgun loaded with six bullets. When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Allegheny County Police were alerted, confiscated the handgun and cited the man on a weapons charge. The man told officials that he forgot that he had his loaded gun in his possession among his carry-on items.

Five firearms have been detected at the airport’s checkpoints already this year.

Also on March 23, a Williamsport, Pa., man was arrested by police after TSA officers prevented him from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight at Newark Liberty International Airport. The handgun was spotted when the TSA officer who was staffing a checkpoint X-ray monitor in Terminal C spotted the weapon inside the man’s carry-on bag. TSA then alerted Port Authority Police who confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on weapons charges. The man claimed that he put the gun inside his roller bag to hide it from his young nephew.

“If you want to prevent a child from playing with a loaded gun, the smart way to do it is to unload it and lock it up so that the youngster can’t get to it,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey. “That’s simply part of being a responsible gun owner. You don’t toss it into a roller bag that you plan to take to the airport.”

“It’s only March and already our officers have stopped six handguns from being carried onto flights,” Carter added. “That’s already half as many as the 12 we caught during all of 2021.”

A TSA officer at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport prevented an Arlington man from bringing a loaded handgun onto his flight on Thursday, March 24. It was the eighth gun detected by TSA officers at the airport so far this year. The .25 caliber gun, was loaded with five bullets and was detected via the X-ray machine as the man was entering the security checkpoint with his carry-on items. TSA officials notified the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the gun and cited the man on a weapons charge.

The following day, TSA officers at Boise Airport found two firearms during the routine X-ray screening of carry-on luggage at the security checkpoint. The first firearm was a 9 mm Ruger P94 pistol loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition detected in the carry-on luggage of a male passenger ticketed for travel to Denver International Airport. This discovery occurred around 5:30 a.m. A second firearm was found around 10:25 a.m. in a bag of a male traveler headed to Salt Lake City International Airport. The 9 mm Springfield Armory handgun was loaded with 13 rounds of ammunition. Upon discovery of each firearm, TSA notified officers with the Boise Airport Police Department, who responded to the security checkpoint. They interviewed the travelers and confiscated the weapons.

These are the eighth and ninth firearms discovered by TSA in carry-on luggage at Boise in 2022. At this same point in 2021, TSA officers had detected five firearms in carry-on luggage at the airport. In all of 2021, TSA found 31 guns at the Boise Airport security checkpoint.

Transportation Security Administration officers at Norfolk International Airport stopped a Virginia Beach resident from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight on Wednesday, March 30.  The man was carrying a 9mm caliber handgun loaded with seven bullets. It was the fourth gun that TSA officers have stopped at the airport’s checkpoints so far this year. TSA officers detected 23 guns at Norfolk International Airport at the checkpoints in 2021. TSA officers stopped the man when his carry-on bags triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. Upon spotting the gun, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the man on a weapons violation.

TSA has reported that as passengers return to the skies, they are bringing literally tons of prohibited items to the checkpoints, not just firearms.

 “We are ensuring the security of travelers with a robust workforce and new technologies within the checkpoint that enhance security, reduce physical contact and improve the traveling experience,” said TSA Spokesperson Sari Koshetz. “We ask travelers to bring their patience during these busy times, but leave their prohibited items at home!”

An item appearing more often in passengers’ bags are lighters which are cast as a metal gun and if brandished inside the aircraft cabin could appear to be one of the small guns on the market which can discharge ammunition. The replica guns, therefore, require a response which includes pulling the bag to remove the lighters which are not permitted on the plane.

Other prohibited items brought to checkpoints add up to hundreds of pounds a year at smaller airports to as much as 2,000 pounds or a ton, literally, of prohibited items every month at the largest airports.  Knives, martial arts items, and large tools are among the most common. And every time a TSA officer has to pull that bag aside to remove the items that could be used as a threat against a fellow passenger, that slows down the line for everyone. “If you wouldn’t want the person sitting next to you to have a similar knife, hatchet or axe, then you should leave it at home,” added Koshetz.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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